The Duel II

Tales of the Dungeon Mistress

By

Accipiter G. Goshawk

This story continues form where it left off in The Duel I

The next day – once she was certain the storm had truly passed – she set out.

She left the cave in the early hours of the morning, to hopefully avoid travelling while the sun was at its highest. As she was leaving, she made sure to carve an icosagon into the rock by the entrance; a simple indication to any of her order that there was shelter and fuel within.

She crossed the small dip in the land that had once been the abandoned village, only stopping to gather a few bits of leftover wood for her campfire and torches. By the time she had made it to the top of the closest sand dune, the sun had just begun peeking over the horizon, once again filling the world with it deadly rays.

“I have to admit though,” she thought to herself as she took a few deep breaths, “there is a certain beauty to it. Now, where is that pyramid…”

The massive construction itself was now visible in the distance, lording over the desolate plains that surrounded it. As the sun climbed higher into the sky, her trekking brought her closer and closer.

A few hours before midday, she stopped in the shadow of an abandoned power plant. After making certain that the ruin housed no nasty surprises, she chose a shadowed corridor with a window facing her quarry.

She could now see that the pyramid was in fact a ziggurat; each level seemed to be connected to the next by a series of ladders made out of metal salvage. Peering through her goggles, she could make out doorways that seemed to lead further into the building. She stared at these for a few more minutes before deciding to take a well-earned lunch break.

After a few hours resting in the relative cool air of the abandoned plant, she rose.

Two options were carefully balanced in her mind: the first, to continue onward to Arten Junction. There she was due to host at least a dozen games and then continue her travels westward towards the sea and the towns of Shark Lookout and Hazenville.  This was by far the safer option: it would only take her two more days to reach Arten and she had provisions for almost a week. She was also certain to find a warm welcome waiting for her and to finally be able to put the endless sands of the Blasted Suburbs behind her.

However…

She was always on the lookout for new places to visit, new communities to explore and new players for her wandering Game. She was aware that some Dungeon Masters were not as driven as she was; few chose to wander the wastes to bring hope and fun to the lost villages and struggling towns. But for her it was a something sacred, a mission. A life-quest.

But so far, nothing she had seen seemed to indicate that the ziggurat currently sheltered a speck of civilization. She shuddered to think what other life-forms might be lurking within its long dusty corridors.

Suddenly, something on the side of the construction caught the light of the sun. Like a hawk, she zoomed in on the mote of nothingness, eagerness drawn in the lines of her mostly-covered face.

“Yes!”

Workers. Almost a score of them, dragging the remains of an old vehicle up the ladders to one of the openings in the ziggurat. She observed them for almost half an hour, searching for the tell-tale signs of brutality that often accompanied the few tribes of raiders that patrolled the wastes. She saw none.

*          *          *

“Well, that ought to be enough metal to last us until the next solstice. At least!” grumbled Old Harry. He shrugged off his leather cap, goggles and face mask and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Good job boys and girls; I think we’ve earned ourselves some entertainment.”

An enthusiastic cry went up from the assembled workers as they moved further into the tunnels, chatting about the night’s festivities.

They froze as a figure blotted out the light behind them.

“Entertainment I would be glad to provide. Good people, I am a Dungeon Mistress, and I bring you my Game. In exchange, I ask only for shelter and nourishment.”

The words were well known; for decades the wandering order of warrior-storytellers had uttered them upon their arrival. And for decades, the people had answered.

“Welcome, tale-smith. We have a bed and plentiful food, and are always in need of a Game.” The words sounded out of place in Old Harry’s mouth, but nonetheless, they elicited a second of reverential silence.

“We are truly blessed, Mistress,” he exclaimed, inclining his head to deliver a lopsided salute. “I’ve never heard of a place visited by two Dungeon Masters! We’ll be the talk of the Blasted Suburbs for years!”

The Dungeon Mistress’s eyebrows rose.

“Another one of my order is here? Take me to them.”

The story continues in Part III

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